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Former Rep Wright Settles Pa Ethics Charges

MARK SCOLFORO, Associated Press Writer HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) ― A former Pennsylvania lawmaker has paid the state $10,000 under a consent agreement regarding allegations he used legislative employees and resources for campaigning, according to a State Ethics Commission report released Friday. A 27-page adjudication concluded that Matthew N. Wright, a Bucks County Republican, violated the Ethics Act by letting his taxpayer-paid employees coordinate election fundraisers, compose and assemble written materials and solicit and collect campaign donations. "Wright's use of the staff, office space, equipment and materials of his district and Capitol offices in furtherance of his reelection campaigns resulted in a private pecuniary benefit to Wright, through savings of expenses that would otherwise have been incurred by Wright or his campaign," the ethics commission said. Wright's attorney, Walter Cohen, said Wright does not believe he did anything wrong, but paid the fine to get the matter behind him. "He is engaged in running a successful consulting business and just doesn't want to have to deal with the ethics commission," Cohen said. "And they have accepted these terms of settlement." Ethics Commission director John Contino said Friday the report was being forwarded to the state attorney general's office as a matter of routine, but the commission was not making a recommendation about what state prosecutors should do. "When we get it, we'll treat it like we treat every referral from ethics," said Kevin Harley, spokesman for the attorney general's office. "We'll review it." Cohen said the referral should not imply in any way that the ethics commission is suggesting a criminal investigation is appropriate. "In fact, the terms of our settlement were that they would not refer the matter to any law enforcement agency," Cohen said. State prosecutors for the past three years have been investigating similar allegations in the Legislature. Twenty-five people have been arrested as a result of the investigation, including seven who have pleaded guilty and one who was acquitted. Opening statements in the trial of four other defendants, including former state Rep. Mike Veon, DBeaver, are scheduled for Monday. Wright's case has parallels to that of former state Rep. Jeff Habay, R-Allegheny, who resigned in February 2006 after being sentenced to six to 12 months in jail for having aides perform campaign work on state time. In 2004, the State Ethics Commission ordered Habay to pay $13,000 in restitution and referred the case to the attorney general's office. That year the commission also ordered Rep. Jim Lynch, R-Warren, to repay the state $5,381 for using his district-office staff to perform campaign activities and for submitting bogus expense vouchers for reimbursement. Wright served eight terms in the state House until his defeat in 2006. He was first elected to the House in 1990 to fill the seat previously held for more than two decades by his father, Rep. James L. Wright Jr., R-Bucks.